Fire cause undetermined - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Fire cause undetermined

Samples from dog hits were oil for lamps inside home

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Posted: Saturday, February 25, 2012 12:00 am

POST FALLS - The cause of the fire last week that destroyed a riverfront Post Falls mansion owned by a couple with financial woes will be undetermined, an investigator said on Friday.

Debris samples that petroleum-sniffing dogs hit on - the last pending part of the on-scene investigation of the former home of Len and Pam Wallace - came back from a lab as lamp oil, which doesn't point to arson, said Dan Ryan, Kootenai County Fire and Rescue division chief.

"We knew there was lamp oil there because they had lamps," Ryan said. "Lamp oil is a flammable, but not a high-rate-of-spread type of flammable. It's nothing that would point to where there was any wrongdoing.

"As far as what we've been able to do on scene, the cause will be undetermined."

The Wallaces' insurance company had security pulled from the scene on Friday.

Police, meanwhile, continue their part of the investigation.

The 11,000-square-foot home at 1504 E. Plaza, which was assessed at $1.5 million and built in 1986, has been owned by the Wallaces for the past 10 years. It was slated to be foreclosed upon the day after the fire, sparking suspicions of arson.

But Len Wallace on Friday didn't appear to be riled over the arson talk and said he wasn't necessarily relieved that fire investigators couldn't determine a cause.

"I don't know why I would be relieved," he said. "I think it would be better to know what the cause was."

In addition to the accelerant-sniffing dogs, KCFR brought in members of the State Fire Marshal's Office and the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assist its own investigators.

Ryan said the extent of the damage - and structural problems as a result - made the investigation a challenge, but he believes a thorough check into the cause was made.

"The structure is so unstable that, to get in and do more hands-on investigating, would've taken an investment of some heavy equipment and week's worth of work to get through it," he said. "Since we didn't see anything that would lead us to a deliberate fire, the insurance company decided it wasn't practical go that route.

"Somewhere you have to decide on the risk vs. the gain. We went as far as we could with the investigation."

Part of the structure collapsed on Tuesday, confirming investigators' sense of danger, Ryan said.

"It's not a good place to be," he said.

Ryan said investigators are aware financial troubles for the Wallaces piled up - hence, assistance in the fire investigation was called upon - but he believes all practical avenues were exhausted in the search for a cause.

"There's lots of circumstantial evidence, but maybe that's all it is," he said. "Maybe a lot of bad things happened all at once for them."

Wallace said no one was home when the fire started, but he speculated the morning of the blaze that the cause may have been associated with one of seven fireplaces in the home. But he later realized it could've been electric-related.

"I thought (Pam) had left the upstairs fireplace on, but she's pretty sure it wasn't on," Len said. "My suspicion, looking back, is that it was electrical because there's so many wires that had been redone and redone and there's seven circuit breaker panels. There were lights everywhere in that house.

"But the answer is, 'We don't know.'"

Wallace said no one was home during the fire because the water had been shut off due to water damage caused by the dishwasher. The family is staying in a motel in the interim and plan to rent.

Wallace said he was hopeful he would be able to stave off foreclosing on the home through bankruptcy court.

"We were still in the mode of being able to save it," he said.

Police interviewed the Wallaces, along with their two male teens who lived in the home, and said all of their testimonies as to the circumstances before the fire were consistent.

Wallace said he was a victim of what he believes was a business fraud in Montana. He said he invested in a company that has products that identify dairy cows and, after he tried to get out and get his money back, there was a judgement against him.

The decision in 2003 awarded MagTrac Bolus, LLC, a $2.5 million judgement against Wallace for damages. Wallace then had five unsuccessful appeals to the Montana Supreme Court.

He had plans to develop about 900 acres of property south of Post Falls on Blossom Mountain known as Raspberry Ridge until the economy went in the tank.

Wallace operated the controversial Big Velvet Ranch in the 1990s south of Darby, Mont. It was an enclosed 2,000-acre elk farm used for "shoot for pay" hunting.

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  • Joseph Jr posted at 8:51 pm on Mon, Feb 27, 2012.

    Joseph Jr Posts: 512

    I was just thinking...




    There's even a town named Wallace in Idaho. Could mean anything to anyone, or nothing at all. Just in time to stave off foreclosure. Imagine that! Hey, is the "community" helping these people by sending them money to help them? Just curious. Thanks

  • My2sence posted at 1:52 pm on Mon, Feb 27, 2012.

    My2sence Posts: 317

    Too much? naaa, one can never have "too much", um,... I mean, lamp oil.

  • CClavin posted at 12:59 pm on Mon, Feb 27, 2012.

    CClavin Posts: 221

    Lamp oil is on my shopping list. Just where can you store this in your living room & bedroom?
    Do you think 10 gallons is too much to buy?

  • max power posted at 9:08 pm on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    max power Posts: 559

    Because they haven't found the cause yet doesn't mean they won't. More information may become available at a later date. Fire investigators use a number of tools in their investigation and it's a process of elimination. Fires basically start five ways:

    Chemical (exothermic reaction)
    By man's hand
    * accidental
    * arson
    a. revenge
    b. for profit
    c. malicious mischief

    We can eliminate nuclear based. Interesting to note the discussion here about an explosion. Natural gases specific gravity is lighter than air. An explosion would yield walls being blown out near the top of the ceiling but intact at floor level. A gas like butane has a heavier specific gravity and would yield walls being blown out near the floor but intact at ceiling level. Keep in mind the mixture can't be to rich or to lean or it wouldn't ignite at all. Apparently they didn't find anything to indicate a gas explosion.

    Sometimes the investigators can read the depth of char and burn patterns to find the origin. The investigators didn't find multiple sets which would have been an indication of foul play. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the investigation in the future...

  • My2sence posted at 9:03 pm on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    My2sence Posts: 317

    ya...i know...duh, thats what I meant too., who wouldn't know that? geesh,........... ya, flame sensor bypass, thats the first place I woulda looked too..WOW!!

  • Jill Heine posted at 6:28 pm on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    Jill Heine Posts: 408

    to My2sence

    throw gas on a fire and it goes whoosh.
    I haven't tried sparking a near empty gas tank.
    My assumption would be an explosion due to restricted exhaust of pressure.
    An explosion would occur in a gas-filled home when a light or other spark-able appliance was energized.
    I think neighbors heard explosions, or was it a very loud whoosh?

    I'm no expert. If I had investigated, I would have looked at gas line unions/fittings and the position of especially the upstairs fireplace gas valve and a potential flame sensor bypass. Natural gas is lighter than air and would gradually fill the residence until sufficient concentrations reached a combustion source. Due to the lack of restriction, minimal explosion, major fireball, and possibly blown out windows.

    Got to wonder who made money off Les.

  • uncle fester posted at 4:59 pm on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    uncle fester Posts: 831

    put the entire family on a polygraph.

  • My2sence posted at 3:43 pm on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    My2sence Posts: 317

    whoa jill !, it was a theory, but you sound like an expert though, what do you mean "non explosively"? cus I watch CSI and I'm pretty sure if all that gas "ignites" it will be pretty "explosive".
    just sayin'

  • Jill Heine posted at 2:26 pm on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    Jill Heine Posts: 408

    a failed (or rigged) gas valve on one of the fire places would have filled the home with gas that could combust non-explosively and quickly ignite the home. burning newspaper or a comforter would not suffice. Get a clue before you spout.

  • CaiusCosades posted at 11:32 am on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    CaiusCosades Posts: 380

    I don't know why just because they can't find an accelerant that the cause of the fire is undetermined. Couldn't simply rigging something to burn a bunch of newspaper or a comforter do the same job?

    Just seems silly that just because they can't find gasoline they say the cause is undetermined. Anyone with half a brain could rig up a delay that an hour or so after you left the house would start a pile of newspaper or something on fire and would burn all evidence.

    Of course I'm not saying they're guilty however. They lost their home, I feel bad for them.

  • REDLINE posted at 11:00 am on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    REDLINE Posts: 96

    This story ran in the PRESS on February 4, 2012

    Kootenai County Fire and Rescue names new Chief.

    Warren Merritt has spent 32 years working his way to become a fire chief.
    Kootenai County Fire and Rescue, the first agency in which he applied for chief, has granted his wish.

    Merritt, who has served with the Bellevue Fire Department in Washington since 1980, including the past six years as deputy chief of operations, will start at KCFR on March 5.
    "It already feels like home," Merritt said. "I've been waiting for the right job for my wife, Dana, and I to settle down in and be a part of the community. Everything about the opportunity was appealing.

    "Warren has proven that he is committed to continuous growth and self-improvement and we believe that he will be instrumental in helping move Kootenai County Fire and Rescue to the next level of professionalism and quality service delivery," said Keith Hutcheson, chairman of KCFR's board. "Mr. Merritt comes to us with both outstanding credentials and a reputation of fire service excellence."

    KCFR contracted with Prothman, the same recruiting company Post Falls used in its search for a city administrator, for $18,500 in the national search.



  • My2sence posted at 10:46 am on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    My2sence Posts: 317

    This just in....antique shops are selling a suprising amount of oil weird is that?

  • My2sence posted at 10:11 am on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    My2sence Posts: 317

    YA!.. cause we can still build houses/mansions with lamps.... that need lamp oil ! Hey Wallace, the 1930's called, they want their oil lamps back.
    Only a brainless twit would rule this an accident. I can't believe it. How bout a follow up on the dishwasher "story" is there evidence that he went to Freds or Lowes for a replacement dishwasher?, was a plumber called??? was an insurance claim filed for possible water damage to the structure??? Who shut the water off, was it Wallace?, or Post Falls water district, if it was PF that info should be available. I also would like to know exactly what items were removed from the house a couple days pror to the blaze, was it...oh I don't pics...contents of a safe that may not withstand for example? great great grammas solid oak dinning table?
    You gotta be kidding me.

    In addition to the accelerant-sniffing dogs, KCFR brought in members of the State Fire Marshal's Office and the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assist its own investigators.......WHOA!! how much did this cost us?

  • concernedcitizen posted at 7:03 am on Sat, Feb 25, 2012.

    concernedcitizen Posts: 2530

    What was that line in "How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days"? Oh yeah, I call BULL$%#!.

    Now had this been poor ole average joes house he would already be in jail.

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